At age 6, Palmer Trinity School student Waleed Mneimneh drew sketches of one day running a tennis tournament in honor of his brother, Tarek, who was diagnosed with autism.
Today Waleed’s dream has not only become a reality, it is helping many children battling autism.
“It’s rewarding. I saw how my brother was when we got here. He didn’t function that well; now he might be able to sustain his life one day. I see how the work has transpired on him,” Waleed said. “The money we raised is supporting and improving the lives of those living with autism.”
Waleed, now 17, leads the fourth annual Ace for Autism Tennis tournament, to be held 10 a.m. Saturday at the Biltmore Tennis Center, 1150 Anastasia Ave. The tournament will benefit the University of Miami’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD). So far, Waleed has raised $70,000 and counting. It has taken him more than 500 hours for the effort.
Waleed’s family came to the United States in 2006 to find help for Tarek at the CARD, which could provide resources not available in their homeland of Lebanon.
Waleed’s mother, Chirine Atoui, is proud of her son supporting his brother.
“His dream was to start the tournament to help benefit the center,” said Atoui, who evacuated from Beirut along with her entire family during a 2006 war. “We didn’t think of it too seriously but we supported him and told him ‘Sure, you can do it.’ ”
Tarek, 16, functions well. He goes to school and is about 70 percent independent, Atoui said.
The UM-CARD has offices in South Florida and opened in 1993. It provides free services for about 9,000 families, said executive director Michael Alessandri.
“It’s an amazing achievement,” he said. “These are high school students who have for the last few years done what capable adults don’t do, which is come together and create an organization that will have an impact in the community. They raised $70,00 and it will help us expand our resources.”
Waleed, who lives in Pinecrest, has been able to raise money through raffles, the tennis tournament, silent auctions, donors, sponsorships and other activities.
He is an active teenager. He started the Autism Awareness Club at his school and is co-captain of Palmer Trinitys’ soccer team and a tennis player.
“The tennis part helps me manage my time because a lot of kids my age, they don’t have anything to do after school and they procrastinate,” he said. “But since I come home late and I don’t have a lot time I need to be diligent. It helps me manage. I’ll work on the charity on the weekend. Most of it is word of mouth.”
His mother also helps raise money.
“He gives me orders and I take his orders,” she said. “I do what he can’t do when he is at tennis practice or school.”
With so much success, Waleed and his family plan to convert the effort into a nonprofit organization soon.
If you go
▪ What: Ace for Autism Tennis tournament for the benefit of UM-CARD
▪ Where: Biltmore Tennis Center, 1150 Anastasia Ave.
▪ When: Starts at 10 a.m.
▪ Cost: Tournament fee $55 for adults and $35 for 18 and under
▪ For more information or to donate: Visit www.umcard.org